Forty-two

Towards of the end of May 2015, sitting above the rough track which traverses Hanging Knotts to approach the summit of Bowfell from Rosset Pike I awaited the arrival of friends attempting the Bob Graham - the 66 mile round of the 42 highest summits in The Lake District. It also involves some 27,000ft of ascent, Bob Graham first completing the round in 1932 at the age of 42. Gazing out over the Langdale Pikes, I was struck by the enormity of the challenge. They had left Keswick as I settled into a warm camp the night before beside Wastwater, and had been running for the intervening 10 hours. Blencathra was clearly visible in the distance - it would have been the third of 23 summits to reach the hollow in which I was waiting, sheltering from a cold breeze. I waited for some time, accepting eventually that something had gone wrong, before continuing alone to complete a fine run over the Wasdale fells. 
But before I started up for the summit of Bowfell, my thoughts had turned to an attempt of my own. It seemed so far beyond what I felt capable of then, but as the months passed the idea took hold until by early Spring this year, I found I had somehow committed myself to an attempt early in 2017. And with such a commitment comes the question of training.
The problem is that I have never seriously trained for anything in my life. In the climbing years, we would spend at least three nights a week at the wall if not the crag, in between the real trips. It was good training in many ways building strength and fitness, but was never viewed as such. In the run up to longer paddling trips, I may have focused a little more on technique or rolling, playing in the races, but that was what it was: play. I'll just do it, being the prevailing mentality.
And so far, it has been little different on the fells. Now I know much of the route already, perhaps more than many when they first decide to take on the Bob Graham. I still think of the Cumbrian fells as home and I have run or walked almost all of the route as part of other things. But I have never thought of myself as a real fell runner, never mind a so called 'ultra-fell runner'. It seemed about time to start taking things a little more seriously. So began a week of running, culminating with the first two legs of the BG round, starting in Keswick and finishing at Dunmail Raise - albeit omitting Fairfield and Seat Sandal, the routes over these being familiar in any case. It would make for a day of approximately 25 miles and 10,000 ft of ascent. But before that, came something completely different. 
An unrelated commitment required a trip south, to Devon, and with that came the opportunity to run sections of the South West Coastal Path, which despite the lack of fells, provides some lengthy climbs as it contours the cliffs above the Bristol Channel.
In three days, we covered most of the coast between Woolacombe and Glenthorne Plantation a little east of Lynmouth...
...the most enjoyable perhaps being the more gentle section approaching Woolacombe, with long views towards Lundy.
Travelling north to more familiar hills there was a certain sense of apprehension, and with the bulk of Skiddaw looming above our camp, I simply avoided thinking too much about route ahead.
Starting with the ascent of Latrigg, having reluctantly left the camera behind, we were on the summit of Skiddaw by 8am and made what felt like reasonable progress over Great Calva and on, via a bog or three to Blencathra. Descending via Hall's Fell ridge, I was pleased to note we were almost an hour up on the schedule for a 23hr finishing time. 
But this was also part of the experiment - to try and gauge the pace so as not to burn out in the later stages. As for the time - I am under no illusions and will be happy with anything within the 24hr limit.
The climb from Threlkeld, towards and over Clough Head was tough. Steep and unrelenting, it ends abruptly with long views across the summits stretching south and with the last major climb for the day complete, there followed an enjoyable hour or so ticking off the summits before finally beginning the descent to Grizedale Tarn and from there, to Dunmail Raise. We reached the top of the pass some seven and half hours after leaving Keswick, one hour ahead of schedule despite a 30 minute stop in Threlkeld.
After so many months of contemplation, there was real satisfaction in putting the first two legs of the route together and no small amount of relief in feeling able to continue at the end. And so, until next year, when I too will be 42, the 'training' continues.

Comments